Obviously, this blog is mostly designed to talk about what's been going on (and what's going to happen) in the weird and wacky world of Exhumed, but since it's the end of the year, I figured I'd throw something a little different up here. People often ask me what new stuff I'm into, random people as well as "journalists", and I frequently draw a blank. Well, now that I'm home, rested and have my thoughts collected, here are my personal top 10 records of the past year - my opinions may not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the band (or anyone else, for that matter) but here they are nonetheless.
Best of 2011
When Decibel asked me for my top 5 records of the year, I was on the road and was not only sleep-deprived and in desperate need of a shower, but I didn't really even have a particularly good guage for what actually came out in 2011 (for instance, the Black Nasty “Shark Tank” album I mentioned actually came out in 2010- whoops!). So after getting home and having access to my full music library, (and using the “sort by year” function in iTunes) I decided to make a more thorough and correct list for the heck of it. I feel a little weird about it since I haven't heard the new Bjork or Coldplay yet, and both of them usually put out stuff that I really love, but time marches on and I should finish this list before the year is over. And no, I'm not kidding, I really dig Bjork and Coldplay. That said, as much as I love Thrash and traditional Heavy Metal, it looks like the Death Metal comeback is in full force, because most of my picks for this year are Death Metal. So here are my top ten for the year and nine more honorable mentions. Enjoy and feel free to add your own picks in the comments or tell me what awesome / shitty taste I have.
#1. Deceased – Surreal Overdose
I've always loved Deceased, ever since our original drummer Col Jones bought the “Gut Wrench” EP back in '91. It took me a little while to get used to the blatant Heavy Metalisms that started around “Fearless Undead Machines” , but I grew to love that record, and its successor “Supernatural Addiction” slowly became my favorite Deceased album – until 2011. A band is not supposed to make their best record 24 years into their career, but, fuck, they just did. Having King back on drums injects a really intense raw, edge to the songs, with some really ferocious tempos. I listened to this masterpiece of “Death Metal From The Grave” for a week straight when I first got it. Describing this album is kind of pointless – It sounds like Deceased, but it effectively mixes the ferocity of the really early stuff (the pre “Luck of the Corpse” era) with the refined class and confidence of “Fearless...” and beyond. And on the track “Cloned (Day of the Robot)” the robot voice from the song “Birth By Radiation” is back – how fucking awesome is that?!?!? Synthesizing the best elements of classic Voivod, Iron Maiden and pre-1990 Death Metal, Deceased has created what is hands-down the metal album of the year for me and I can't recommend it highly enough.
#2. Hammock w/Steve Gibley and Tim Powles of the Church – Asleep In The Downlights EP /
Hammock - Black Metallic Single
When not listening to metal (which is most of the time, let's face it) I have been delving deeper into the “post-rock” genre. While I've been disappointed to discover that there are an army of bands trying to simply out-Mogwai Mogwai, Hammock is one band that has really stood out as being amazing. Without the bleak, totally depressing vibe of the all the post-GY!BE bands, Hammock make music that is really beautiful and quite emotional, while being very ethereal and spacey. They cemented their place in my current favorite bands list with their two 2011 Eps- first I got the “Black Metallic” single, which is a cover of the Catherine Wheel song. If you are into shoegaze / metalgaze / My Bloody Valentine at all, you owe it to yourself to go back and get Catherine Wheel's “Ferment” album, it is a total masterpiece. Hammock did a great cover that evokes the original, but is uniquely their own. The female vocals add a totally different dimension to the song. Then on top of that, they went and teamed up with two of the dudes from The Church – one of my favorite depressing 80s bands (The Church are best known for the song “Under The Milky Way” which most folks nowadays think of as “that cool song from Donnie Darko that's not by Echo And The Bunnymen or Tears For Fears”) for their 4 song “Asleep in the Downlights” EP. This EP has two quasi-instrumental tracks and two tracks with the guys from The Church doing vocals. Those two tracks are fucking amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking, and deep. Great, great stuff.
#3. Mortuous – Rehearsal tape '11
I have to admit a bit of bias on this one. Mortuous is the new band featuring my old band-mates Col Jones (drums) and Mike Beams (guitar). It's also a bit unfair putting something in your “top however many records of the year” that no one can buy or hear. However, you can watch some halfway decent quality videos of this band on youtube. This is good ol' fashioned Death Metal in the Finnish / Swedish / British tradition. Tons of murky doomy passages a la “Lost Paradise” or the slow stuff by Demigod or Convulse colliding head on with gnarly Incantation style fast parts – everything is dark, obscure and totally sickening. Of course, there's a hint of that “Sunlight” guitar tone going on as well. Overall, this is really fucking morbid underground Death Metal at its absolute finest – now these guys just need to finish recording their actual demo and release something so everyone can tell me how cool I am for knowing about this band before they did.
This band is awesome and so is this record. This CD stayed in my car for months and months. The first track in particular is just amazing. It's music to drive a spacehip through the neighborhoods in “Blade Runner” on your way to a coke party in 1986. This record has been the soundtrack to many, many long drives from Orange County to San Luis Obispo for me in '11. If you haven't heard this band, imagine Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and Goblin forming a band. But only the cool shit from those artists, none of Vangelis' “Chariots of Fire” stuff or Goblin's weird (albeit occasionally awesome) pseudo-Eurofunk. This record, and really everything that Zombi does is totally badass. And the cover gets points for having a levitating naked woman and a DeLorean on it. Choice.
#5. This Will Destroy You – Tunnel Blanket
Another post-rock find, this one courtesy of Pandora (thank you “Sigur Ros station”!), this record unmistakeably has that bleak, hopeless edge to it. Complete with ambient noise, almost unbearable silences and slowly shifting instrumentation that makes me feel like I'm watching a beautiful tree rot in zero gravity. Contemplative, layered, and depressing, this is a great album to sit and zone out to. Or to put on while reading extremely depressing books. That's what I did during all the drives on our European tour with Cephalic Carnage: listen to this band, Hammock and Manual while reading The Possessed” by Dostoyevsky and a collection of Chekov's short stories. Good times! Their “Young Mountain” album is a bit happier and more uplifting, and also killer.
#6. Cianide – Gods Of Death
2011 was the year people finally started waking up to how fucking awesome this band is and always has been. Most of my friends were all abuzz after finally witnessing Cianide live at MDF this year, and with good reason. I almost fell over the first time I heard the rough mix of this album at Scott's house in Chicago, because it seemed like each riff was somehow heavier than the last. It's fucking insane. I love Scott's weird wah-wah pedal solos that sound like an even more fucked up Autopsy. “Dead And Rotting” is the heaviest song of the year for sure. While “Gods Of Death” isn't drastically different from most of their records, that's what makes it so fucking great. With a sound akin to taking a Hellhammer 45 and playing at 33 RPM mixed with the most brutal Master-style riffs since 1987 and a relentless barrage of ridiculous heaviness (even their fast stuff is heavier than most DM band's “heavy stuff”), Cianide is one of the ultimate pure Death Metal bands today.
#7. Rotten Sound – Cursed
Swedish-style buzzsaw guitar tone? Check. Incredibly pissed off vocals? Check. One word song titles? Check.Totally unhinged drumming? Check. Best Grind album of the year? Check. Sure everything blurs together on this record, but it's a Grindcore record. That's what it's supposed to sound like. Fucking amazing.
#8. Bullet – Highway Pirates
While much has been made of the recent “return” of NWOBHM-influenced traditional Metal, Bullet have been doing it for years. I got their “Heavy Metal Highway” EP back in '03 from their guitarist Hampus Klang (ex-Hypnosia and Birdflesh) and haven't looked back since. This album is their most sophisticated yet – and it's not particularly sophisticated at all, haha! The guitars still have that pure Marshall / Gibson tone and everything sounds super live and organic. The solos are noticeably more interesting than on previous albums, but still firmly rooted in the pre-'83 Tipton / Downing school. Bullet simply synthesize “Restless & Wild”, “On Through The Night”, “British Steel” and “Highway To Hell” into a super fun, catchy, and energetic HM experience that kicks ass from front to back. It's worth saying that these guys do AC/DC flawlessley – which is a lot harder than it seems. In fact they do it much, much better than Airbourne's second album (check out Bullet's “Stay Wild” if you doubt me). A big plus is the voice of Dag Hell Hofer – whose post-Udo / Brian Johnson wailing is certainly not technically brilliant, but bristles with energy and personality – something lacking in so many metal singers these days. The only band that I think is currently as good as these guys at playing pure Heavy Metal is Enforcer (who Bullet did a split 7” with for Record Store Day that I would LOVE to get my hands on), but their album “Diamonds” dropped last year, so now it's Bullet's turn to get into my top albums of the year list. “Back On The Road” has got to be the ultimate pre-game partying anthem of 21st Century traditional Metal – at least until the next Bullet album.
#9. Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
I am a latecomer to this band (as well as the pretty similar - and likewise excellent - Black Breath) and I am gonna call bullshit right now. This band is not really Hardcore. It's mostly straight-up Death Metal in the old Entombed way with some cool Tragedy / D-Beat stuff going on that's played by Americans with short hair. And it's fucking awesome. There is some D-beat stuff, but it just ends up sounding like Dismember due to the production, which makes it really awesome. Bombastic riffs and inventive drums provide a nice template for some seriously pissed-off vocals – which are the only thing that's truly “Hardcore” about this band to my ears. I guess if a dude is screaming and angry sounding it's considered HC now and you have to make a monster voice for it to be considered Death Metal? I'm too old for these kind of distinctions at this stage in the game, and I couldn't care less anyway. This record is great because it's obviously influenced by the Stockholm sound (the first riff in “All By The Constant Vulse” is one of the best Swedish Death Metal riffs I've heard since the 90's) but it takes that influence and then actually does something unique and interesting with it.
#10. Talkdemonic – Ruins
Another mellow, moody instrumental album, this one is a bit more electronic. What really sold it for me was the synth line in “Midcentury Motion.” It totally reminds me of something from the music from the original Legend Of Zelda game way back when. I can't put my finger on it, but it's in there somewhere, or some NES game or other. Overall, the music is far more varied than the NES music, featuring feedback loops, droning melodies, mesmerizing percussion, string sections, and everything necessary to tune in, turn on and drop out. This is a great zone / chill / space out album for sure. It's soothing, textured, and dreamlike, making it perfect background music, but there's enough nuance and quality there for you to really sink into as well. Since there are no lyrics, picking standout tracks is a bit difficult. The album works really well as a whole piece and definitely will take you into several different states of consciousness if you let it.
- in no particular order -
Haemorrhage – Hospital Carnage
Well, this is another great Haemorrhage album, and if you like this band, then you'll like this album. No real surprises here, just a lot of really fun post-Carcass Goregrinding madness. The video for “Flesh Devouring Pandemia” is also very well done. Totally awesome stuff, and it's about time that Haemorrhage and Exhumed were finally labelmates!
Havok – Time Is Up
This record is a bit uneven, but when this band is firing on all cylinders (on tracks like “Fatal Intervention”, “Get Out Of My Way”, “Covering Fire” and “D.O.A.”), they evoke everything great about American Thrash Metal from 1987-1990. The track “Killing Tendencies” also shows that they have what it takes to head confidently into “Countdown To Extinction” territory. These guys are not only one of the few young thrash bands actually worth their weight in vinyl, but with any luck they're on the edge of a breakthrough.
Landmine Marathon – Gallows
Ryan Butler just seems to be able to summon an endless supply of Bolt Thrower riffs that continue to astound me. Combine those with the killer crust / d-beat riffs that are all over this record, and you've got a definite winner. The blast beats being a bit stiff and Grace's vocals sounding slightly forced in the lower range featured on this record are the only things keeping this in the “honorable mention” category. Death Metal is best when it keeps a punk-rock edge and that's exactly what LM do so fucking well on this record. Also, thanks a lot for not putting me in the thanks list Butler. Fucking jerk.
Vomitory – Opus Mortis VIII
The leadoff track “Regorge In The Morgue” alone is worth the price of admission. This is pure Death Metal with strummed, D-Beat via Swedish Death Metal riffs, occasional Slayer-esque moments, and a monstrously thick guitar tone dripping with distortion and attitude. Killer solos add some nice bits of texture and vibe, but never overdo it. I wish all Death Metal bands had this much taste and restraint. If you haven't heard Vomitory before, just Imagine early 90s Swedish Death Metal played at double speed and tighter. You're there. Now get this album. This is just a quintessentially aggressive Death Metal album – it fucking rules.
Toxic Holocaust – Conjure and Command
This is a really, really good album. One problem: It's not quite as good as their last one. But damn, it is still really fucking good. “Bitch” is an instant classic, Joel's vocals are still awesome and his rhythm guitar work is unfuckwithable. I love this band's riffs because they are so simple that Anybody can play them, but nobody can do it this well and this convincingly. My only other complaint is that I liked their old logo better. I hope that Joel at least still rocks that sweet headband!
Ghoul – Transmission Zero
This band is just too much fucking fun. They were beyond great when we played with them at the California discord fest this past summer, and this new record did not disappoint. I knew exactly what to expect, and I got exactly what I wanted. I literally can't listen to this album without grinning ear to ear. “Transmission Zero” is chock-full of everything I love about this band: detuned, deranged surf riffs, gang vocals, catchy solos, drumming that makes you want to move (not count bpms), endearing and clever lyrics about Creepsylvania and a cast of goofy, spooky characters, and of course - the Killbot robot voice effect. If there's anything that makes me smile it's that robot voice.
Team Ghost – We All Shine
This is a great record of shoegaze-y post rocking brilliance – the music is beautiful, weird and has a lot of great textures colliding. There's just one problem, the vocals in a few of the songs are the very definition of “acquired taste”. If the vocals were different in a few key tracks (most notably the first song on the album with vocals, "A Glorious Time"), this album would have been in my top 5 for sure. After several listens, I still haven't been able to fully get past all the vocals (although some songs like "High Hopes" have great vocals), which is a shame because the music is just about perfect. Plus this band has an awesome band name. If you can get past / into the vocals on a few of the songs, you'll be treated to some seriously awesome shoegaze / indie / post rock.
Volture – Shocking Its Prey
This was a bit of a slow year for traditional heavy metal for my ears. I enjoyed, but wasn't wowed by that In Solitude record that everyone was raving about and felt the same about the Portrait record (which I thought was a bit better with some really great moments), but I did really get into this Volture record. It's just straight-up fun and rocking heavy metal in the NWOBHM / Priest vein with cliched lyrics about racing down the freeway, banging chicks backstage and all that shit that really only makes sense when you're totally wasted. The clincher that puts this band ahead of their contemporaries is that their singer Brent Hubbard can really sing. An amazing falsetto that thankfully doesn't sound like King Diamond magically turns lyrics about motorcycles and loving heavy metal from juvenile and silly to completely resonant. For further illustration of this point, see every Judas Priest album ever. Tasteful leads and killer riffs don't hurt either.
Mastodon – The Hunter
I'm stoked that this band has finally made another album simple enough that I don't end up zoning out and forgetting what's going on two thirds of the way through. I suppose “simple” is the wrong word – how about direct? There we go. Immediate, stand-alone songs that are catchy, heavy, intricate and full of bad ass riffs, spacey vibes and excellent clean singing made this album resonate a bit more for me than their last two records. Don't get me wrong, I like every Mastodon record, but this one is probably my favorite since “Leviathan” - although it might be too early to call. There is one major sticking point though: the song “Blasteroid” totally sucks, but the rest of the album more than makes up for it. “Stargasm” and “Curl Of The Burl” are probably my two favorites on this one, although each listen kind of makes me think that a different song should be my favorite. I don't care how popular this band is, they're popular because they fucking rule, plain and simple.
Best opening bands Exhumed played with in 2011:
Transient (from Portland, but we played with them in Oakland)
Ingrowing (Prage, Czech Republic)
B.U.T. (Prage, Czech Republic)
Theories (from Seattle, but we played with them in Oakland)
Hot Graves (from Jacksonville, but we played with them in New Orleans)
Coffin Dust (Wilmington, Delaware)
Things I got my band-mates into this year that I am stoked about:
Tim And Eric Awesome Show Great Job
Places I went to for the first time this year: